Nils Frahm Flaunts The Imperfection

Berlin composer and pianist experiments, makes music for autumn nights.

Nils Frahm

Fact Sheet

  • For fans of Arvo Part, Machinefabriek, Brian Eno.
  • “My piano teacher told me, ‘Don’t play with “popo” [points to his behind] play with heart,” says Frahm. “I realised music needs to be played, with an intention or energy.”
  • KEY TRACKS: Over There, It’s Raining; You; Familiar.

Born in Berlin in 1982, Nils Frahm was always surrounded by music. His parents were self-taught musicians, while his father, photographer Klaus Frahm, also designed covers for ECM Records, whose churchly jazz atmospheres, along with a wealth of classical music, filled the mind of the young Nils. By the time he was eight and having his first formal piano lesson, he’d already written his own compositions.

“My mother had a piano and I obviously thought I was already a great pianist,” laughs Frahm over coffee, in the studio of his high-ceilinged Berlin apartment. “I played my pieces for my teacher, this old Russian guy. He just said ‘Forget about that. We start over’.”

“I like to arm-wrestle every situation.”

“This old Russian guy” was Nahum Brodski, a student of Tchaikovsky’s last protégé, who taught Frahm intensely for the next seven years. “My father would say ‘Practice more’. Mum would say ‘Don’t practice too much, enjoy your life. Then at fourteen, I found out I was legally old enough to fly a glider, and that’s all I wanted to do. My father said I’ll give you any keyboard you want if you drop the whole pilot thing, so I got this keyboard, got together with friends and played Beatles tunes for saxophone, midi keyboard and drums. It was horrible. But that was the start of it all.”

Since releasing his first album, Streichelfisch, in 2005, Frahm has recorded over ten albums and EPs, working with ambient and electronic artists as Greg Haines, Peter Broderick and Machinefabriek, and composing solo piano albums of a rare range and beauty. Yet Frahm’s music is also about flaws and imperfections. 2011’s Felt was recorded at 3am, the soft titular fabric layered in front of the strings to dampen the sound, while 2012’s Screws was composed for nine fingers and a broken thumb, following a fall from a bunk bed. Both albums used mike-placing production techniques influenced by Thelonious Monk and King Tubby to emphasise rather than disguise these flaws.

Nils Frahm Spaces
Nils Frahm’s Spaces LP: “A study in field recordings.”

“I like to arm-wrestle every situation,” says Frahm. “ECM really influenced me but I really disagree with the serenity of their the ideal. I like more the idea of Charlie Parker or Arthur Russell. People who bent the possibilities of the instrument to their needs.”

This focus on the unique phenomena of each recording extends to Frahm’s new album, Spaces. Compiled from over thirty different performances, Spaces is, says Frahm, “more like a study in field recordings than a live album. I pushed up the sound of the room, the reverb, the audience, their coughing. Maybe Keith Jarrett can only create music from a dark place and tell everybody ‘Shut the fuck up!’ but it would totally block me.”

Spaces effectively draws a line under the first stage of this accomplished composer’s career. As for what’s next, Frahm is thinking about “a thing with ensembles, a piece for choir, a prepared piano that works as a drum kit, a complete electronic album, and another solo piano album.”

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